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Political Notebook

Obama thanks unions for rights won in workplace

Speaking before attendees at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati, President Obama extolled workers’ rights and used the event to promote his health care overhaul plan. Speaking before attendees at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati, President Obama extolled workers’ rights and used the event to promote his health care overhaul plan. (David Kohl/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / September 8, 2009

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President Obama declared yesterday that modern benefits such as paid leave, minimum wage, and Social Security “all bear the union label,’’ as he appealed to organized labor to help him win the health care fight in Congress.

“It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So, even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement,’’ said Obama, whose run for the presidency was energized in no small part by unions.>

Obama, who traveled to Cincinnati to speak at a state AFL-CIO picnic, asserted that “our recovery plan is working,’’ but repeated that he won’t be satisfied until jobs are much more plentiful.

Shortly after taking the oath, Obama confronted a rapidly deteriorating economy, a clogged credit system, failing or ailing banks and a shaky stock market. He used his speech in Cincinnati to tick off a host of steps the administration has taken to steady the economy, and he made a special pitch for the health care overhaul he has pushed.

Some elements within the labor movement have indicated frustration with Obama because some key items, such as legislation making it easier for people to join unions, has languished in Congress. To vigorous cheers, Obama made a pitch for the bill in his speech. He also noted that the first bill he signed into law was one guaranteeing equal pay for equal work.

Obama spent a good deal of his time extolling the virtues of the union movement.

“We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women. They had to be won,’’ he said.

“They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. They stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,’’ he said. “Many risked their lives. Some gave their lives. Some made it a cause of their lives - like Senator Ted Kennedy, who we remember today.’’

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis accompanied Obama to Ohio, and the pair appeared in front of a large American flag.

At the event, Obama also announced his selection of Ron Bloom as senior counselor for manufacturing policy.

Bloom was senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as part of the auto industry task force since February. Bloom, a Harvard Business School graduate, previously advised the United Steelworkers union and worked as an investment banker.

Bloom will work with the National Economic Council to lead policy development and planning for Obama’s work to revitalize US manufacturing.

In speech in Pa., Biden, Specter vow to back labor
Vice President Joe Biden told a rally at Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade that organized labor was the backbone of the country and that he and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania would continue fighting for workers.

“You built the middle class. The middle class cannot be rebuilt without a growth in labor,’’ Biden told a crowd of about 300 yesterday morning outside Mellon Arena.

Biden praised the federal stimulus package, saying it was providing millions of Americans with unemployment insurance and health care or Medicaid benefits. The vice president said Pennsylvania would have had to lay off more than 10,000 people without the stimulus package. The money also enabled 135,000 public school teachers and more than 5,000 police officers to be hired in the state, he said.

Biden credited Specter, a Republican turned Democrat, with supporting both the stimulus and the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize.

“This is one of the few guys that I have known in 36 years that when it came down to a matter of principle and what would help his state, or his future, he chose the principle,’’ Biden said. Specter joked that Biden called him up so much that “I reverted to my roots and became a Democrat’’ and voted for the stimulus package.